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Associate professor, department of materials engineering, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore
Fanboy: Metallurgist Satyam Suwas says the profession requires 24×7 involvement. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.
How you got here? How did you end up in an offbeat, unique and unusual career such as this?
Born in a village in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district to a family of agriculturists, Satyam Suwas did his schooling there before graduating in science from Ranchi University and heading to the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi, in 1989 to do his master’s. “I developed some kind of fascination for science over there. And the more I studied it, the more drive I got to pursue it,” he says. While his early interest was in physics, in time Suwas specialized in materials science at BHU, which would give him an opportunity to work in the applied fields.
“After a point I felt that pure physics was becoming too abstract for me,” he confesses. “Material science branches out from the physics of materials, so it wasn’t a drastic transition, but streamlining into something that had application potential,” he explains. Followed by another master’s degree in materials and metallurgical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and a PhD on titanium alloys, Suwas worked at the Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory in Hyderabad from 1999-2002. In September 2002, he headed to the Université de Metz in France and in 2004, to the RWTH Aachen University in Germany for postdoctoral studies. On his return to India in mid-2005, he joined the IISc.
While a lot of time is spent in guiding and teaching, Suwas is predominantly involved in research for industries and manufacturers. “Metals and alloys are used in all aspects of life, including structural, aerospace, automotive and naval applications. My work is around the broad aspect of structural materials that will help these industries,” he explains.
A day in the life of a scientist?
“This profession requires 24 hours of involvement. Whether it’s doing experiments, discussing, reading or thinking, I’m involved in one of these four processes at all times. I work six days a week (sometimes more), and I don’t remember the last time I took a long holiday,” he says. However, this depends on the type of work you are involved in. “I’m doing several projects where there are deliverables.”
Most interesting project?
One of Suwas’ ongoing projects is for a leading aircraft manufacturer, to develop a higher-performance alloy for aircraft bodies and engines. “With increasing air traffic, aircraft will need to be faster in the future. Higher speeds imply higher temperatures. Our team is working towards developing alloys which are stronger and can withstand elevated temperatures,” says Suwas.
“Dedication, passion and perseverance is what it takes to be a scientist. Unless you have passion, you’ll get tired soon.”
The skills for science?
“Dedication, passion and perseverance is what it takes to be a scientist. Unless you have passion, you’ll get tired soon. You may not succeed in a few attempts, so you have to keep trying.”
“Constantly changing technology is hard to keep up with. Today you work out an alloy that can withstand a certain stress level; tomorrow the requirement would have gone up. Also, the tools of research are changing constantly. The electron microscope that I used while doing PhD is obsolete now,” says Suwas.
A career in science in India vs overseas?
“Premier Indian institutes and scientists are well-recognized globally. However, scaling with the vastness of our country, the numbers are too less in the field of research.”
Money matters: Some “10-15 years into science can fetch you Rs.95,000-1 lakh per month. If you work in the research and development lab of a multinational, you earn higher, or sometimes on a singular project, they pay consultancy fees.”